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Justin Moore’s “This Is My Dirt”: Makin’ Tracks – Billboard

January 18, 2024 - Music

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Justin Moore’s current single, “This Is My Dirt,” is a three-and-a-half-minute musical evolution.

It starts with acoustic-guitar finger-picking, as a quasi-folk song that transforms into a country piece and eventually finds Moore in a big-voiced, arena-level anthem that reinforces family values and personal history. It also subtly explores the modern urban/rural battle over America’s very identity.

Moore wasn’t thinking about that last part when he wrote it last spring, and neither were his co-writers: Randy Montana (“Beer Never Broke My Heart,” “I Hope You’re Happy Now”), Paul DiGiovanni (“How Not To,” “The Ones That Didn’t Make It Back Home”) and producer Jeremy Stover (“Why We Drink,” “You’re Like Comin’ Home”). They were instead gearing it toward Moore’s own circumstances. He lives on a 50-acre plot of Arkansas land that’s been in his family since the mid-1800s, and it provides a sense of security, of privacy and of identity.

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“We had horses and cows and animals, and we always had gardens,” Moore says. “The cows and stuff was just more of a hobby. It wasn’t really my grandpa’s main job – certainly it’s not mine, my parents’, either – but it’s special to be able to have it and be able to pass it down to my crew.”

Not everyone stays where they were raised, as Montana knows. He purchased some land in Tennessee and built a house, and when he visited the property during its construction, he recognized how much of the area’s farmland is undergoing a renovation.

“It’s just what’s going on in Nashville,” he says. “It’s growing so quick that a lot of these places are getting bought and turning into big subdivisions. And I get it. I love the growth. I love that people love this city. But I also have that nostalgia side of me. [The farms] are so aesthetically pretty that I wish they would stay that way.”

On a two-hour drive with his sons in the spring of 2023, Montana contemplated how that transformation happens – how someone pulls into a driveway, approaches the owner with an offer and, suddenly, 100 acres becomes 150 homes. He pictured a farmer passing on the deal, and he came up with a title: “This is My Dirt.” Montana worked on it in Nashville with DiGiovanni and Stover, creating a verse and chorus, and he finished it in a Zoom meeting from DiGiovanni’s studio with Moore and Stover, who were in Destin, Fla.

Some of the original phrases got reworked in the process. Montana’s initial opening line, about “Arkansas dirt on his overalls,” became “hard work caked on his overalls.” And the set-up line before the hook shifted from “You can’t put a price on what it’s worth” to something less common.

“I’ll never forget it,” Montana says. “I remember Jeremy going, like, ‘Dude, I just wish it was something a little odd.’ And then he literally goes, ‘What if it’s like, “You can’t put a greenback dollar…”’ And I thought that was so cool, because it’s an old-school way of describing a dollar.”

Moore personalized “This Is My Dirt” a bit beyond that, replacing several words and jacking the chorus melody into a higher range. “Justin, with his voice, he can do things most other singers in town maybe wish they could do, as far as like range and hitting those high notes,” DiGiovanni says. “He really wanted to pick it up an octave in the chorus and really make that soaring melody.”

They tailored it further to his situation in a short, two-line bridge, the first line devoted to the five generations of Moores that have occupied his land. The math is correct – his kids are the fifth generation – and if the bridge’s last line follows his plans, Moore will be buried on the property, too. “My 14-year-old knows, ‘Hey, you guys are gonna be taken care of, and you can sell trucks and boats and this and that, but there is no selling this [land]. Ever. Period,” Moore says. “That will be written into our will.”

DiGiovanni produced a demo in Nashville around a light, but incessant, drumbeat, and Montana laid down a vocal, challenged by the enhanced melody that Moore had created. “He’s got incredible range, and so it was kind of a stretch for me as a singer,” Montana allows. “It’s effortless for him.”

They sent the track to Destin, and Moore recut the vocal at Stover’s house. Much of that casual take ended up in the recording’s final vocal. Moore and Stover, who co-produced with Big Machine Label Group president/CEO Scott Borchetta, cut the master instrumental tracks at The Castle in Franklin, Tenn., with guitarist Danny Rader augmenting Moore’s road band: guitarists Stephan LaPlante and Roger Coleman, keyboardist Wil Houchens, drummer Tucker Wilson and bassist Dave Dubas.

“They crushed it,” Stover says. “He has a really, really great band. I mean, these guys are super seasoned.”

Borchetta suggested Moore try to lift the vocal performance even further on the last chorus, and the singer hit some higher notes, despite attacking it in the morning when his vocal cords weren’t fully ready to go. “The first time I heard it, I got super goosebumps,” DiGiovanni says. “It’s an epic song at the end of the day, and to really kick it up one more notch at the end – I was like, ‘Yep, this is what it should be.”

The plot for “This Is My Dirt” makes a classic statement, as Moore’s character chooses his family’s history – and his kids’ future – over the greenback dollars. “The story of this song for me is the guy values the memories more than the money,” Stover says. 

But the song also points to larger societal issues. Every time a farm becomes a subdivision, it reduces the nation’s food-production abilities and the inhabitable area for wild animals, sometimes including endangered species. “Everywhere we go we destroy it,” Moore says.

If, however, farmers routinely hang onto their property rather than sell to developers, the cities face more congestion. The issue, and how Americans incentivize the decisions around it, make a statement about who we are and what we value.

“This Is My Dirt” was written as a focused song about a man taking a stand for his family and his lifestyle, and it’s a good bet that most listeners will take it at that level, but it’s also a gateway to deeper conversations for anyone who cares to explore the topic further. Valory released “Dirt” to country radio via PlayMPE on Nov. 16, and it ranks No. 49 on the Country Airplay chart dated Jan. 20.     

“We haven’t really done what you would consider maybe a lifestyle-type song in a little while,” Moore says. “We’ve done the beer-drinkin’ stuff, and we’ve had some love songs out. I don’t know that we’ve done one like this in a while. And I think that’s really been an important part of my career and has contributed to our longevity. It’s being upfront and honest with like, who I am as a person. I think it matters.”

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